ON OUR OWN FREE WILL, LORD CAVITY AND I LEFT PORT SWOPE on the early-morning steamer, departing well before the sun's ritual appearance over the green-gray waters of the Iridescno. We were accompanied by a crew of fifteen, twenty-seven crates of food and supplies, three native wolfbear trackers who had promised to accompany us as far as New Portage, Mrs. Claypool-Rittenhouse and her three Amish escorts just "along for the trip", two entirely confused missionaires from the Brunswicks, and twelve fresh miners bound for the notorious chicken mines of Kalmari. As expected, most of our fellow passengers greeted the news of our primary destination with mixed waves of horror and revulsion.
"I will not expect to see you return from the Quality," one of Mrs. C-R's escorts sternly intoned belowdecks on our first day out, "and you realize I cannot wish you any sort of luck on your endeavors."
"Savvy him, Signore!" one of the miners hollered in my general direction. "Krunking savvy him bien!" I nodded politely at the barely articulate gerund-uttering polyglot and hastened to find the path back abovedecks.
We crept up the Iridescno at an alarmingly slow speed; the pilot blamed vicious downstream currents and the lack of freshwater candiru fish this time of year. Days passed and our supplies dwindled, causing much consternation among the crew. Eventually, however, we reached Andalou (the "Gateway to the Geralds") and prepared to put in for restocking. The two missionaries timidly stepped off the boat first and were immediately pounced upon by three or four of the local wild dogs, who, as was confided to me later by a native guide, can smell fear and cheap hair tonic. Unfortunately the dogs' choice of diet also provided them with extreme cases of heartburn and indigestion, and their agonized howls and frantic scrabblings at the child-proof bottles of Pepto Bismol kept us awake the first night we stayed in the river town. Eventually Mrs. Claypool-Rittenhouse, out of the kindness of her leathery philanthropist's heart, crept out of the yurt and opened a bottle for the wild dogs. Grateful, they must have departed soon after coating the insides of their stomachs with the pink minty goo. They left us alone for the rest of the journey, seemingly as a token of their gratitude.
We met up with the Angel Fish three days out of Andalou. I'd known the prettiest of Her Majesty's agents was doing field work somewhere along the river, but we found her in the forest, not a field. She had just weathered an unfortunate flaming donut attack and we felt compelled to provide assistance and donut burn balm. Feeling much more chipper after an infusion of sugar and sugar byproducts, the Angel Fish agreed to postpone her shady dealings with the elements of the undergrowth and accompany us up to the Quality, bringing with her an enormous satchel filled with what appeared to be dried eyeshadow pellets. "Teh prettiest!" the Angel Fish shrieked with glee, applying the smart pellets to her eyes, and not a single one of us onboard could disagree.
At Kalmari the miners departed, promising gizzards and assorted innards for us should we ever return. Instead of cheering and encouraging us, this seemingly magnaminious gesture instead seemed to directly forecast our impending doom -- the Kalmari chicken miners were not known to make promises they'd be obligated to keep. While at port we also made the acquaintance of Lions and Froffges, two anthropomorphic explorers with a yen for finding others. They ably replaced the miners on the boat and soon our journey was brightened with the loud, boisterous notes of many vaguely smutty sea chanteys. Whatever words either explorer forgot, the Angel Fish was more than happy to misspell.
It was also on this leg of the journey, between Kalmari and New Portage, that we discovered much to our joy that the Snadry onboard was actually Sandry, and there was much recognition and rejoicing. One evening before dinner the crew fished out of the river a very wet and bedraggled urchin of the spiny variety, though it was rather unclear as to which part of the urchin was actually spiny since it turned out to be bald as a bowling ball. Nevertheless, the spiny traveller acted as a good-luck mascot for the rest of the trip and also had some ideas as to improving the speed and efficiency of the navigation. Just exactly what it did to the boat, though, I could not tell you, lacking the formal education and proper terminology of a boatfixerperson.
By the time we arrived in New Portage our entourage had also gained an industrial fuzzy bunny (who provided litres of a life-enriching elixir that tasted like the very nectar from the sun itself; there was much wibbling from the Angel Fish) and an interesting daisie of the macintosh variety. This greatly pleased Mrs. Claypool-Rittenhouse, who spent hours afterwards expounding on the merits and distinctions between various forms of lithographic typefaces. I suspect it was an effort to drown out the sea chanteys, which had since evolved past the vaguely smutty stage, skipping the bawdy innuendo and heading straight to the downright rude.
"This is the last stop before the Quality," one of the wolfbear trackers said to us at New Portage before setting off into the brush. "Woufs and the Genuine Artificial One will be able to help you complete your journey." And before we knew it, there they were, bearing little Rabs ahead of them on a little stretcher. Or litter. It is impossible to discern the difference, you know. As we made accomodations for the new arrivals and shoved off for our final upriver destination, there was a great commotion from the treetops above. Looking up, we noticed a wild Fnordia in her natural habitat, hollering wildly and clutching a vine attached to a branch only God knows where. With a war whoop she swung down upon us, expertly landing on the top deck with jazz hands and a three-point stance. Unfortunately she demonstrated her perfect landing a little too close to Mrs. Claypool-Rittenhouse, who was summarily catapulted overboard, drifting downstream before we could even bring out a lifesaver or Tic-Tac. (She was found, five weeks later, somewhat dazed and dehydrated, on an island near Fiji.)
The pilot rang the bell, pulled levers and pushed buttons, we all gave a rousing cheer, and began to float strenuously upstream towards our final Brigadoon.